BEARS Lagoon-Serpentine's key defensive stocks have been boosted by the signing of new coach Jake Wilkinson.
Wilkinson is headed to the Bears in the Loddon Valley league from Sandhurst after more than 100 senior games with the Dragons and takes over the reins as coach from Justin Laird.
"The biggest thing for us in terms of signing Jake is his leadership skills; being a teacher his processes and professionalism are going to be very important for us," Bears footy operations manager Greg Gadsden said on Wednesday.
"He is a fitness fanatic and we love that about him, but more importantly, we lack a couple of key defenders and we think he will fill a role down there.
"He has a lot of senior Bendigo league experience with Sandhurst and his poise with the footy and decision-making will be really good for our young players down back to learn from."
Wilkinson played five senior games for the Dragons this year and was part of the Sandhurst team that won the reserves premiership last month.
Laird had coached the Bears for the previous two years, with the side finishing fifth in 2022 and third this year.
The versatile Laird won the best and fairest in both his seasons as coach of the Bears, with whom he has re-signed with for next year.
"Justin had already told us halfway through the year he wasn't going to be continuing on, so we knew that well in advance," Gadsden said.
"For a young guy who had never done any coaching in any capacity at all previously, the improvement he made over the two years was just enormous and we couldn't be more proud of what he done with the group.
"Coaching the side probably improved Justin's performance over the past two years. He became a lot more consistent and taking on the coaching role he had to lead by example at training, so he was incredibly fit."
The Bears bowed out of the premiership race this year in the preliminary final when beaten by Pyramid Hill by 52 points.
"At this stage we've basically retained all of our group so far, which is really important," Gadsden said.
"And we've picked up a few already, so things are looking alright as far as next year."
The Bears have two of their former players returning to the club in Darcy Hawker and gun ruckman Nathan Twigg both coming back from Boort.
"Darcy is someone who we'd look to play in a wing/half-back role and is capable of also going forward," Gadsden said.
"And Nathan has re-signed back at the club, which is huge for us.
"Aidan Brohm did a fantastic job for us in the ruck this year, but being able to have two good ruckmen in the side next year for us will be massive."
Twigg is a former best and fairest winner at the Bears, and also won a best and fairest during his two seasons with the Magpies in the North Central league.
Also joining the Bears is Doolan Nihill from White Hills. Nihill adds further depth to the Bears' midfield group and joins the club after he was last month best on ground in the Demons' Heathcote District league reserves grand final win.
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